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Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question. How shall I answer it? First and foremost, it is important that all people have access to the help that they need, with information that allows them to make a good, informed decision. Getting into serious debt is a worry for all of us and
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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that since the very first Consumer Credit Act-I think that there have been two or three versions in my time-I have campaigned against the formula which is represented by the APR, as it is totally incomprehensible and does not fully warn what the debt situation is? Does she agree with me?
Baroness Wilcox: The noble Baroness was chairman of the National Consumer Council before I was. She was also the consumer Minister and speaks with an amazing amount of authority on this subject. There is no way that I would go against anything that she says and I am absolutely sure that she is right.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, recent events in London have heightened public concern about urban foxes and our sympathies go out to the Koupparis family. Local authorities have powers to control urban foxes and are best placed to decide how and when to apply those powers.
Baroness Sharples: I thank my noble friend for that reply. On my way from the Underground the other day, I saw a fox running into the Commons-it did not come here. Does my noble friend accept that common sense should prevail at this time? A fox is a predator and a wild animal, so people should not feed it. A number of people do feed foxes but perhaps if they stopped doing so the vixen would not have so many cubs to rear. Does my noble friend agree?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am sure that foxes going into another place are a matter for another place. It might be that they are less keen on coming into this House. As regards my noble friend's question about food, she is absolutely correct: if less food were left around, we would have less of a problem with urban foxes.
Lord Lea of Crondall: Will the Minister take into consideration a recent event in Crondall when we had a power cut? It was established that it was due to a
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Lord Henley: My Lords, I was not aware of the incident to which the noble Lord refers. I certainly think that it could be built on and I am sure that all local authorities will study with great care what the noble Lord has had to say.
Baroness Deech: Does the Minister agree that food waste is a problem? Will he give a message to local authorities that their rather chaotic plans for keeping food waste separate and for longer than necessary will contribute to the problem of urban foxes?
Lord Henley: The noble Baroness is absolutely correct to say that food waste is a problem. However, I do not believe that we should give a message to local authorities that they should not insist on separating food waste; it is for the local authorities themselves to decide on the best way of disposing of and collecting their waste of one sort or another. If food waste is put in secure bins, there is no reason why it should create a problem.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his clear statement that pest control is a matter for local authorities. It is not the job of Secretaries of State and other Ministers to solve every local problem in the country. However, does he agree that this question needs to be kept in perspective in view of the fact that two years ago more than 5,000 people were treated in hospital for injuries caused by domestic dogs and, of those, 1,250 were children? Perhaps that is a bigger problem than foxes.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his support for our localist agenda, which we believe is very important. He is correct to put these matters in perspective, although, obviously, if you have had two children bitten by a fox, you tend to take the matter seriously.
Baroness Quin: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on his appointment and I wish him well with his new responsibilities. The Opposition recognise that what happened was a terrible event for the family concerned and we send our good wishes to the children for a full and speedy recovery. As the Minister is, according to the Defra website, responsible for relations with local government, is he planning to have any contact with the local authorities affected by this issue? At the moment, there appears to be no information on the Defra website about this, so can he ensure that advice, information and expertise from within his department will be available to those who want it?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her kind words and I welcome her to her new role on the Front Bench. We shall talk to local authorities, but I repeat that we believe that these matters are best left to them, rather than being dealt with by direction from the centre. Advice on how to deal with foxes is available from Natural England. I can also assure her
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Lord Henley: My Lords, my understanding is that it could be illegal to do so under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 if it were to cause distress to the fox, which I imagine it would. Obviously, it would depend on the individual circumstances of any capture and release.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, although I appreciate that urban foxes do not live as long as rural foxes, does the Minister know the proportion of urban foxes to the fox population at large?
Lord Henley: My Lords, some research has been done into fox numbers. It is believed that there are of the order of a quarter of a million foxes in the country and that in the region of 15 per cent are urban foxes, although those are estimates. If we brought in some form of immunocontraception, those numbers could drop further.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, immediately after the conclusion of the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, my noble friend Lord Sassoon will repeat two Statements, the first entitled "Public Spending: Reviewing Commitments made since January 2010", to be followed immediately by a Statement on banking reform.
Lord Sugar: My Lords, with the proposed first Budget of the coalition Government scheduled to be announced on 22 June, I feel it appropriate that in today's debate matters of change which may affect SMEs should be aired. Before I express my comments, I state that, pursuant to the Code of Conduct, I have registered with the Table Office any relevant interests that may arise from those listed in my name in the House register of interests.
After the formation of the new Government, I was surprised to hear rumours suggesting an increase in the rate of capital gains tax. I thought that such a suggestion would be totally alien to Tory policy. Your Lordships may agree when I say that there have been some rumblings of discontent in their ranks on this matter, but I quickly recognised that it was the brainchild of the new Business Secretary-no doubt part of the prenuptial agreement.
I then noticed some backpedalling on the proposal. The Prime Minister, closely followed by the Chancellor, said words to the effect of, "Don't panic. Just wait and see". This gave me hope that our debate today may still be in time to influence what I detect is a plan still being drafted, but I am a bit confused, because the Business Secretary said that the current policy on capital gains tax can lead to large-scale tax avoidance. That was endorsed yesterday by the Prime Minister, while discussing capital gains tax on the Jeremy Vine programme on Radio 2. In that discussion, he said that he did not come into politics to put punitive rates of taxation on savers and people who do the right thing. He concluded: "I think you'll see that it's a fair and reasonable outcome".
I have researched possible schemes of avoidance. Excuse me if I am missing the point when I say that I have come across only one anomaly. It benefits individuals who manage private equity funds who somehow magically turn their commissions made by creating gains for
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Having said all that, I do not agree that an increase across the board on capital gains tax under the guise of stopping those kind of things is fair to genuine traders and businesspeople. It will have a devastating effect on enterprising people who decide to take the leap and set up their own businesses with a view of either floating them or selling them by way of a trade sale. I know that there is currently a £2 million entrepreneur relief in place, but in this day and age that amount falls short of the aspirations of real growth companies, especially those in the technology sector. That big payout is the ultimate goal for such entrepreneurs and their loyal employees. Raising capital gains tax rates will not encourage employees of public or private companies who have been incentivised with approved share option schemes. It will depress their desire to work hard. Most devastated will be those business or asset owners who have worked honestly and hard all their lives and are reaching an age where they are considering a sale.
By all means curtail people who trade in and think up avoidance ideas, but leave the genuine people alone and allow them to prosper and generate employment by good old-fashioned trading, manufacturing and sheer hard work-or, as the Prime Minister put it yesterday, "those that do the right thing". A taper relief system should exist, resulting in low rates, such as the 18 per cent we enjoy today. There should be a much clearer differentiation between business and non-business assets, to allow people to know exactly where they stand. It is wrong to suppress enterprise in any way. Those people who, outside of their normal work, invest in real estate in their own name to enhance or refurbish it with a view of making gains should not be punished if they have retained the asset for a fair period. The same could be said for those who are long-term shareholders. One needs clearly to differentiate between the fast-buck merchants and those who invest sensibly.
Your Lordships may be interested to note that from the tax year 1997-98 right up to 2007, when the rate was 40 per cent, with taper relief providing possible rates of 10 per cent for business and 24 per cent for non-business, an average revenue of £3 billion per year was collected. In 2007-08, when taper relief was abolished and the advantage of the 10 per cent rate was changed to a flat 18 per cent rate, there was a rush in the sale of assets resulting in a massive increase of receipts to £7.6 billion. From what I hear, it is estimated in that 2008-09, under the 18 per cent arrangement, receipts dropped back to £3 billion. I would hate to think that a significant increase in capital gains tax, albeit delayed until next April, would induce a fire sale of assets that would depress certain market sectors. Is it the Government's real agenda to generate a massive windfall of revenue in order to boast in a year or so's time
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There is also mention that the Government intend to cut investment allowances with a view to funding a corporation tax cut. This idea will benefit only non-productive companies such as those in financial services, which make large profits with very little investment. Investment allowances have encouraged manufacturers to invest in leading-edge plant and equipment. They also release more working capital to them. These companies create employment, train the young and win valuable export sales. This is not the time to demoralise them or to create cash-flow problems for them. It will make them think twice before investing and, more to the point, investing in the UK.
Your Lordships will recall that last year I was engaged by the then Government to act as an adviser in areas relating to SMEs including, among other things, their relationships with banks. During that time, I attained quite a high level of understanding of the service provided by Business Link centres. I shall not speak of all the good things available to SMEs through these centres, save to say that it is a very good service. It makes a difference in helping and encouraging start-ups as well as hand-holding those already in business. I have heard that the Government are proposing major cuts, including cutting quangos or cutting costs at the RDAs, which worry me in respect of the future of Business Link centres. At the tail-end of my advisory role, I reviewed the cost of operating Business Link centres. I will be honest: despite being encouraged by what I saw out in the field, it quickly became clear to me that a lot of cost could, and should, be saved in running this service. I would wholeheartedly endorse a rationalisation of Business Link centres. It would generate significant cost savings if we made sensible changes by cutting duplication and centralising some of the services they provide. I am convinced that that can be achieved without any decay at all to the service they provide. My plea to the Government today is to say that, considering all the hard work in crafting this excellent service, it should not be abandoned or merged in some smoke-and-mirrors arrangement. I ask that it remains in place under its current branding and autonomy, albeit rationalised in cost terms so that it can continue to offer the great support it gives to the small business community.
In the March Budget this year, it was promised that government procurement departments will pay SMEs on time and allocate a larger percentage of their spending to small companies. I hope this promise is honoured by the Government, as it was one of the issues most voiced to me when I was engaged on the coal face with the SME community. Problems still exist getting on an approved government buying list. It is very complicated. It seems each and every department or council has its own criteria. I encourage the
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My final topic is the old chestnut of the banks allegedly not lending to small businesses. Correct me if I am wrong, but do I detect in the past few weeks a complete silence on this, once branded a disaster area? From what I recall, it was frequently debated in this House and reported in the media. Why has it all quietened down? Is it that a problem did not really exist? Is it that those who complained now realise they did not deserve what they were demanding? Is it that for some people there has been a massive wake-up call that there are no free lunches out there?
The banks experienced a shock a couple of years ago from the world's economic crisis. They were chastised for their irresponsible actions in getting into such trouble. Then, after the bailout, they were chastised again as to why they do not lend irresponsibly to every Tom, Dick and Harry.
Your Lordships will recall how this House, and those in the other place, raised concerns based on misreporting in the media of comments I supposedly made last year when trying to be realistic and honest on this subject. The then Government were so intimidated by this banking issue that in the last Budget they announced that the Financial Intermediary Service would set up a national credit adjudicator. So concerned were some that it prompted the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, then residing on the opposition Liberal Democrat Benches, to inquire,
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, has decided to join in this debate and I look forward to his contribution, but let me allay any fears. There was never any intention of me being an adjudicator, but I did chair a committee tasked to find one. Interestingly enough, when the subject was discussed in detail to try to home in on what, if any, problem existed, it exposed many facets which needed consideration, including the possibility of concluding there was very little on which to adjudicate.
If I have one criticism of banks it is that they should be held responsible for giving detailed explanations to people as to why they have been turned down for finance. I am sure this constructive information will help companies understand what they need to do to with their businesses in future to secure finance. I am encouraged, as we start to see some recovery of the economy, by some banks divesting away from broking or other trading activities and refocusing, as traditional banks, on what they used to do best-lending money to businesses.
I conclude by saying how amused I was to hear that the Business Secretary-who last year, in response to my comments on banks, stated that I was "out of touch" in the business world-seems, having been in office for no more than 15 days, to have taken a leaf out of my book. Some may argue he infringed my copyright in his less than encouraging statement to the small business community when he said:
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